Editor’s Note: This story updates MeriTalk’s Nov. 15 story, White House Official Warned VA About New Vets.gov Enrollment App; Records Crisis Continues.
The Veterans Health Administration has for the first time acknowledged publicly that software problems with its Online Health Care Application on Vets.gov caused tens of thousands of veteran applications to be locked or lost in the process, forcing the agency to disable the app and pay employees overtime to manually work through the applications.
When asked by MeriTalk Nov. 15 how the agency planned to tackle the interoperability problems that led to records becoming locked or lost during transmission, VHA officials initially stated that they had no knowledge of records being lost or locked. However, the agency retracted that statement Monday. “We knew about the issues and we reverted to utilize modality of processing applications,” a spokesperson said in an email.
As first reported by MeriTalk, VHA officials on June 30 ordered the launch of the Online Health Care Application (HCA) on Vets.gov without notifying or training the vast majority of VA enrollment specialists around the country and despite serious technical problems that led to tens of thousands of applications being lost or locked.
Dozens of new emails provided to MeriTalk by an agency whistleblower show that White House officials, including a member of the U.S. Digital Service, raised questions about the planned launch of the enrollment app and warned officials about potential legal problems. Those new internal VHA emails also show that as of Nov. 4, as many as 65 percent of veteran health care applications remain locked or lost, a situation described by one official as having “DIRECT NEGATIVE IMPACT on the Veteran experience.”
The number of applications estimated to have been affected by problems with HCA stands at 30,000, according to an agency whistleblower. Technical issues forced VHA officials to turn off HCA and route the applications back to an application called “Forum” for processing. All applications submitted through Vets.gov are currently being routed to the respective VA Medical Center into a holding file as they were prior to the activation of Vets.gov. Employees are working overtime to process the backlog.